Nest: A Thriller, by Terry Goodkind
I am a fan of books with greater meaning, of books that go beyond their basic narrative to express something deeper. I’m not a fan of this being done in a clumsy and awkward way and, whether I agree or not, believe that once an author does this that the “higher meaning” or subtext deserves as much or more focus than the narrative itself.
Let’s talk first about the basic thriller element of Nest. It’s not an unreasonable concept, if in the Stephen King emerging psychic power category. The central character is Kate Bishop who works as a security investigator for a government contractor. The book opens with her intellectually disabled brother John, who believes he has trapped the devil in his basement. But while talking to Kate on the phone the trapped person breaks loose and attacks John. Police are on scene by the time Kate gets to a horrific scene where John has not only been murdered but his eyes have been removed. We also learn that Kate has also lost an uncle to an apparent murder a short time before.
Kate meets a homicide detective named AJ at the scene who tells her that she has been looking after John. She eventually tells Kate that John helped her in some investigations because he had an ability to sense the criminal urges of individuals when shown their photographs. Kate soon learns that she also has this apparently genetic skill, only even more refined than what her brother could do. She eventually learns that this is also the motivation for her uncle’s death. Simply by looking into the eyes of someone, in person or in a photograph, she can get details about exactly what kind of crime a person has committed.
AJ helps to bring Kate into contact with a man named Jack Raines, a mysterious writer and investigator. From him she learns that there is an underworld of murderous individuals, some of whom can identify people with her skills, and that they operate in the “dark net”, sometimes posting videos of their horrible crimes.
The book floats along with moderately good writing and very detailed action sequences, which is the kind of thing one expects from a thriller. Along about 3/4 of the way through the book Jack begins espousing his perspective on human evil, which starts out as pretty interesting. He talks of how human populations once were decreased to about 2000 individuals before bouncing back and that this makes humans less genetically diverse than the nearest ape relatives. He believes there is a basic urge for doing evil things based on our genetic makeup. Then, suddenly, it turns to how our biggest problems today are evil and tolerance, and that weakling tolerance has allowed Iran to have the bomb and that they’re bound to attack Israel and this will lead to an extinction event. So somehow Goodkind has muddled up basic human impulses for evil with the contention that we’re also too tolerant of diversity, that we are living in an increasingly violent world and that we’re letting prisoners free to commit more evil because we evil beings are tolerant and oh Christ my head hurts because suddenly this all reads less like a thriller and more like a Friday night Trump rant on Twitter.
Beyond the point that most of his latter arguments are verifiably wrong (life is safer now than it has been in human history and prisons are mostly filled with non-violent offenders on minimum sentencing charges) it’s a clumsy rant more worthy of Ayn Rand at her worst. Goodkind is so intent on getting this authoritarian worldview down on paper that he’s willing to sacrifice momentum in the narrative. The sci-fi contentions of the former part are sluggish enough (and highly speculative) as is. Doubling down on ideas you’d find in your aunt’s daily Fox-fed emails is torture.
Goodkind then does his best to kick-start the narrative, introduces a new killer that is pretty much out of the blue, and leaves things pushing for more with obvious sequel fodder.
The thriller part is fairly good, made worse by the botched diatribe. If I wanted weird alt-right logic I’d go trolling on 4chan.